Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar: A Mind at Peace

March 1, 2009

Richard Eder has published a wonderful review of Erdağ Göknar’s new translation of Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar’s 1949 Turkish novel, A Mind at Peace, in today’s Los Angeles Times. We recently linked to an interview in which Göknar described his decision to leave a lot of Turkish words in his translation, since “[a]n easy to read simple translation would not do justice to Tanpınar’s text.” Eder has certainly noticed:

The translation suggests English spoken with a foreign accent, and it lurches with oddity. This of course is a difficulty; at the same time, it has the transporting quality of such an accent, imparting in the reader the heartbeat of an unfamiliar world.

Luckily, it doesn’t seem to be a problem for him. Eder sees A Mind at Peace as creating a portrait of Istanbul, and of the tension between East and West in Turkish culture. (For a non-fictional exploration of that tension, with a little flat-topped hat as its guiding symbol, people interested in Turkey should not miss the absurdly titled but brilliantly written A Fez of the Heart, by Jeremy Seal.) This portraitive quality, along with the meandering prose, evokes comparisons to Joyce, but Eder has other ideas:

Tanpinar’s masterpiece has been compared to Joyce’s “Ulysses.” It bears some resemblance: in its young, questioning hero exploring himself as he explores a city, in the futile cafe speculations of second-rate intellectuals in a country on the margins of Europe and in its partial use of a stream-of-consciousness.

The likeness is relatively superficial. If “A Mind at Peace” has a parallel, it is in the infinitely suggestive, distant and fading world of the great Greco-Alexandrian poet Constantine Cavafy, whose civilization likewise bore the imprints, though far more distant and faded, of an Ottoman heritage with universal inklings.

-ar

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